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Thousands more tigers may be living in private captivity or as exotic pets in the United States alone than there are anywhere in the wild, based on shocking estimates from a number of conservation organizations, Smithsonian recently reported.
Estimates of the U.S. pet-tiger population range from 5,000 to 7,000, according Born Free USA, an animal advocacy organization. Meanwhile, the worldwide wild tiger population is about 3,900, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
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In many states, there are no laws preventing people from owning exotic pets, said Prashant Khetan, CEO of Born Free USA. And in states that do have such laws, they may not be enforced. At the same time, several tiger breeders freely operate in the country, even as tiger habitats are threatened abroad, driving down the animals' numbers in the wild.
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The typical person keeping a tiger as a pet, Khetan told Live Science, is wealthy enough to have a lot of land and to set up an enclosure for the big cat. They'll likely see a friend with a tiger or other exotic pet and decide they'd like to have one of their own. Sometimes, they turn the creatures into roadside attractions, he said. Other times, they treat the tigers as expensive luxury items to show off to their friends. Some captive tigers end up in circuses and other groups that turn the animals into entertainment for profit.
Usually, Khetan said, wannabe tiger owners acquire the big cats as cubs when they're cuter and their behavior more closely resembles that of a house cat. That young stage, he said, can give exotic-pet fanciers the illusion that they can reasonably care for a tiger throughout its life. They can't: The full-grown big...
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